Peru and the Floating Islands

Crossing into Peru was easier than I expected. I had read reports of immigration officials searching your bags and stealing stuff or planting drugs. But I breezed through without a hitch. I read about islands on Lake Titcaca that were made of reeds and hundreds of people, the Uru, lived on them. It sounded fascinating, so when I got to the town of Puno I booked a boat and visited.

The islands go back centuries. The Uru people built them to escape from the Incas. They are made from soil and reeds which grow in the lake. Nowadays of course they don´t have to escape from the Incas but hundreds of people still live on the islands. They are anchored down to keep them from drifting.

They are made by tying blocks of soil together that the reeds grow on. Then piles of reeds are stacked on top. More reeds must be added every two weeks as they rot and fall away. The islands have a spongy feeling when you walk on them. It is a wierd feeling.

Anyway, the captain of the boat, Felix, took me to his island (some islands support many families, some just one, and there are dozens of islands around the lake). Here is a pic of the place where Felix and his wife sleep. All the dwellings are made from the reeds (called tortola)

His wife and daughter and mother all paint or weave traditional scenes. They were amazing. Here is his daughter with her stuff.

And his wife.

Here are some more of the dwellings. I was entranced by their lifestyle. They raise trout and birds to eat and boil lake water to drink. They also sell their crafts to tourists.

Here is Felix and his wife showing me the depth of the water under the island.

But finally it got a bit strange for me. Felix wanted me to be his 9 year old son Daniel´s godfather, and even had me cut off a piece of his hair for me to keep. We exchanged email addresses. Then he said I could really help Daniel financially with school and clothes and such, even suggesting I could wire money via Western Union.  Here is Daniel and their daughter and a shot of the family as we sped away in the boat.

I left with mixed feelings. What a life, but I hate when people are so blatant about money. I know my bike cost more than their annual income, but hey, life isn´t fair. Some people are poor. I can´t save the world. If I gave all my money away there would just be one more poor person on the earth. I can´t feel guilty about being born a white male in upper middle class America and they were born on an island of reeds. it isn´t my fault.

Any thoughts on that?

8 thoughts on “Peru and the Floating Islands

  1. Debbie Black October 16, 2007 / 8:00 am

    Hey Kevin –

    First, I’ve never even heard of the floating islands of Peru. I know about man-made islands — if fact, there’s one in West Seattle — Harbor Island. But making islands out of dirt and reeds? Who’da thought? Maybe I’ll just go build myself an island in the middle of the Snohomish River for those times when I need to get away from the kids!

    The money ploy Felix pulled on you reminded me of an experience I had in Thailand in my other life. A young Thai woman befriended me and the two friends I was traveling with, and took us on a little tour through the rice paddies and rural countryside which ended at her family’s home. While we were there she gave us a sob story and asked us for money so she could go to college. It was really awkward and made me kinda mad. I was also afraid that when we refused she might not guide us back to the town. She did, but wasn’t nearly as pleasant as she was on the trip out!

    People who are truly poor and living in countries that are very backward have a warped view of Americans. In their eyes we’re all rich, but they don’t realize that everything is relative. It costs a helluva lot more to live in America, and most of us have many obligations that sap much of the money we make! On the other hand, some of the things we pay for — like electricity and running water — may be beyond the wildest dreams of some of these folks. So maybe we are filthy rich; we just can’t send their children to college. You can’t feel guilty about the cards you were dealt in this life. So don’t. That’s my two cents.

    I’m sure Peru is fascinating — isn’t that where Shirley McClain goes to be enlightened by extra-terrestrials or something of the sort?! Seriously though, do be careful. The sister of a family friend of ours traveled to Peru a couple years ago to vacation with a Peruvian friend she had met in Los Angeles. At the airport while waiting to board a plane back to the States, he asked her to carry one of his bags for some reason. As she went through customs the “friend” disappeared into the crowd and the customs agents found drugs in his bag. She spent nearly a year in a Peruvian prison and would probably be there for the rest of her life if it weren’t for a connection someone in the states had with a female attorney in Peru. This attorney really went out on a limb for Kim — and ultimately got her out. Kim is now writing a book about her experience.

    Anyway — peddle on! I continue to marvel at your self-sufficiency throughout this journey!

    I look forward to hearing more.



  2. Katrina October 16, 2007 / 12:12 pm

    My thoughts are, did you pick me up one of those beautiful weavings… I hope you were thinking about your dear sister and what kind of interesting gifts you could bring back… I’ll be waiting with anticipation.
    Love, Katrina

  3. Ira October 16, 2007 / 1:54 pm

    Kev I had a similar third-world moral quandry many years ago. Had been traveling around Nepal, and spent a day in Bakhtapur, a town right next to Kathmandu. My friend and I got into a game shooting marbles with some locals, which in itself could take up some blog space. It was lots of fun. Afterwards, one of the players, who was a knife maker, took us to his shop for some tea and beer. Had a good time, exchanged addresses (pre-email of course). Months later I’m in the US and there’s a terrible earthquake in Nepal, devastating Bakhtapur. Weeks later I get a letter from the knife maker asking me for money. It was very strange – I had no contact with him at all other than that one day and then the letter. I never did send money and have aways felt guilty about it. I mean, why couldn’t I – like you said, my vcr cost more money than his living room furniture for cryin’ out loud. I can only conclude that I’m a good but not great person.

  4. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. October 16, 2007 / 3:52 pm

    As Don Jr. and I often remark, “we won life’s lotto,” but we still buy the lotto ticket to win a little more. It reminds me of the Hunt Brothers book, “Beyond greed.”

  5. DAD October 23, 2007 / 9:52 am


  6. Alissa T Nembhard November 15, 2007 / 6:49 pm

    Hi Kev,

    i have to tell you tho, these pics came out just right, Their little huts looks so cute-is that what u call them?

  7. jojo January 13, 2008 / 7:34 pm

    It’s so funny that you have travelled the world over, literally, and still find that Lake Superior is unsurpassed. I’m glad you said that because after now 23 (count ’em) straight years of living here, I have a tendency to take advantage of it. How fabulous that you have had the opportunity to make the comparisons.
    Love ya,

  8. jojo January 13, 2008 / 8:07 pm

    getting use to commenting on the blog. The previous entry was suppose to be in the Titicaca section. Anyway, How cool. Just the construction of the huts are wild. They strike me as something we would have loved to play in when we were little…..
    The money bit…eveybody’s lookin’ to get a buck somewhere, somehow. don’t feel guilty.

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